Cubs

Jason Hammel's brilliance leads Cubs over Rangers

Jason Hammel's brilliance leads Cubs over Rangers

Jason Hammel had worked all offseason with Saturday in mind.

After fading in the second half each of the past two seasons, Hammel shed some weight over the winter and came back determined to stay consistent and effective throughout the entire season.

The veteran right-hander got off to a great start in that regard in his first post All-Star Break outing Saturday, shutting down the Texas Rangers in a 3-1 Cubs victory in front of 41,346 fans at Wrigley Field.

Hammel allowed only one run (which scored on a wide throw from Anthony Rizzo on Elvis Andrus' infield single in the second inning) on three hits and a walk, striking out seven. He went six innings to lower his season ERA to 3.34 and improve his record to 8-5.

Last season, Hammel posted a 2.86 ERA in the first half, but followed that up with a 5.10 mark after the All-Star Break. In 2014, his season was split into a 3.01 first-half ERA and a 4.31 second-half mark.

But after Saturday's game, Hammel didn't want to make too much about his second-half fades, preferring to start a new chapter and leave the past in the past.

"I just go a game at a time," he said. "I'm not even thinking about it. I knew that question was going to come up. As long as we want to focus on it, we can talk about it.

"But I'm just going game-by-game, pitch-by-pitch, trusting the routine that I've put together with some help. Just trying to come out and start off on a good foot."

The Cubs have now allowed just one run and eight hits in 18 innings to the American League's best team to start the second half after the pitching staff slumped badly prior to the break.

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Rizzo drove home the Cubs' first two runs on a two-out double in the third off Rangers starter Yu Darvish. 

Darvish made his return off the disabled list and struck out nine Cubs, but lasted only 4.1 innings as he was limited to 90 pitches.

"Darvish, my god," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "You can just see when he's well. I've seen it before. It's beyond electric stuff, what he's got."

Matt Szczur drove in the Cubs' third and final run of the game with a pinch-hit single up the middle in the sixth.

It was the second straight day with an RBI pinch-hit for Szczur, who ranks third in the majors with 10 pinch hits.

"Matty coming off the bench, being aggressive and getting another big hit," Maddon said. "That was a big moment, too, to give us a little bit of breathing room."

Adam Warren, Travis Wood and Hector Rondon shut the door for Hammel and the Cubs, with Rondon picking up his 15th save in the process.

Willson Contreras commissions heart-warming painting commemorating his relationship with Joe Maddon

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USA Today

Willson Contreras commissions heart-warming painting commemorating his relationship with Joe Maddon

Joe Maddon’s time with the Cubs may be over, but the memories made in his five years on the North Side will live on in Chicago sports lore forever. No matter how frustratingly his tenure may have ended, the outpouring of support and appreciation from management, fans and players alike throughout the process of Maddon’s departure are evidence of that.

“I love him like a dad,” Anthony Rizzo said

“I personally never could have imagined having such a wonderful partner,” Theo Epstein later added, standing beside Maddon as they delivered joint reflections on the end of the era.

Maddon touched the lives of so many within the organization and without in his time with the Cubs, but not many more so than catcher Willson Contreras, who burst onto the scene as one of the best young sluggers in baseball under Maddon’s guidance. Maddon — a catcher himself in his short time as a player — never shied away from criticizing Contreras in times he thought it earned, but it’s clear that the two forged a real bond over the last four years. 

Sunday afternoon, artist Austin Ploch revealed that Contreras reached out to him shortly after the end of the 2019 season to commission this heart-warming piece, commemorating the mutual respect and adoration between mentor and pupil:

The painting is derived from a photo of the two that Contreras posted to his Instagram account after it was officially announced that Maddon would not return as the Cubs manager:

Ploch has commissioned work for Contreras before, but now Willson will have a tangible memento to remember his first manager (along with his 2016 World Series ring). We’re not crying, you’re crying.

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Cubs to reportedly conduct second interview with Joe Espada for managerial opening

Cubs to reportedly conduct second interview with Joe Espada for managerial opening

Astros bench coach Joe Espada has two days off before Houston hosts Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday, but it looks like some of that time will be spent in Chicago.

According to multiple reports, the Cubs will interview Espada a second time for their managerial opening. MLB Network's Jon Heyman reports that the interview is happening on Sunday.

Espada is one of the more sought after managerial candidates this offseason, as he's spent the last six seasons with two of baseball's leading franchises. The 44-year-old has been Astros bench coach since 2018, and prior to that, he spent four seasons with the Yankees — 2014 as a front office assistant, 2015-17 as third base coach.

David Ross was the presumed favorite for the Cubs' opening, when the process got underway. However, by landing a second interview, Espada has clearly given the team something to think about. In fact, NBC Sports Chicago's David Kaplan reported on Thursday the Cubs came away "exceptionally impressed" from Espada's first interview on Monday. 

MLB prefers teams not to make managerial announcements during the World Series. So, it might be a few more weeks before the Cubs announce their decision, unless they do so on Sunday or Monday.

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